FCC Penalties for Indecency Increase

( [email protected] ) Feb 17, 2004 10:32 AM EST

The Federal Communications Commission now has more authority in enforcing decency on the air after a congressional panel approved a legislation increasing the maximum fine for indecency on radio and television to $275,000 per violation.

Originally, the FCC was able to issue a fine of $27, 500 per incident. After the Super Bowl’s halftime incident on Feb. 1, when Justin Timberlake tore off a piece of Janet Jackson’s clothing to reveal her breast, CBS could have been fined millions if the per-incident fine were applied to its stations that were broadcasting the event. The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Mich., prevents the FCC from issuing a penalty no larger than $27, 500 per incident. The total maximum fine for repeat offences would be three million dollars.

Fining broadcasting stations for violating FCC’s indecency standards is not enough, according to FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy.

“Monetary penalties alone may not fully prevent future misconduct,” said Abernathy in a written statement on Wednesday. “It may also be appropriate to consider improving and amplifying our complement of forward-looking safeguards as well.”

Under the new legislation, FCC still does not have any say in cable TV programming. FCC can only monitor the content on broadcast television.

The bill has also been endorsed by the Bush Administration.

Upton called his proposal a "tough bill which, if enacted, would help clean up our airwaves, no doubt about it."

"It's just that, regrettably, the current 'race to the bottom' in the entertainment industry has made it an all but impossible task for parents," Upton said in a written statement. "They should be able to rely on the fact that -- at times when their children are likely to be tuning in -- broadcast television and radio programming will be free of indecency, obscenity and profanity."

The same day the bill passed, a new survey was released showing a majority of Americans are offended by TV indecency. The poll, conducted by The Gallup Organization, found 58 percent of Americans are offended by profanity or curse words, 58 percent are offended by sexual content and 52 percent are offended by homosexuality on television. The survey, conducted Feb. 6-8, also found 61 percent of Americans are offended by TV violence.

A week before the Super Bowl, FCC proposed a fine of $755,000 against Clear Channel Communications for 26 violations by four of its radio stations.